Petru

Lucinschi

President of Moldova

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 24 June 1999

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I am very honoured that you have given me a second opportunity to address this, the highest European democratic forum, eight years after my country’s declaration of independence and precisely four years since its accession to the Council of Europe.

I am pleased to accept this invitation to hold a debate within our European family and should like to express to you our satisfaction that the Republic of Moldova has been accorded great praise in the last few years for the courage and perseverance it has shown in making certain fundamental changes in both its domestic and foreign policies. The success we have achieved is due mainly to the close co-operation between Chisinau and Strasbourg, as the rapporteurs on Moldova have pointed out. I also wish to stress that the Council of Europe is the first organisation to which Moldova turned on its path towards European integration and I should like to express my deep gratitude to you on behalf of all our people.

In the course of these eight years, two parliamentary elections, two presidential elections and two local government elections based on the multiparty system have taken place in Moldova.

We have progressively honoured the commitments we entered into upon our accession to the Council of Europe and have had considerable success in implementing legal and judicial reforms. The signing and ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights and its protocols, the European Charter of Local Self-Government, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and many other instruments have profoundly changed our national legal system. The draft criminal code and the code of administrative procedure have been drawn up with the help of experts from the Council of Europe and will soon be submitted to the Moldovan Parliament for approval. We are working hard on various drafts – the civil code, the code of civil procedure, the code of criminal procedure and the codes of family and labour law – together with other important projects aimed at consolidating the rule of law.

Thanks to the joint efforts of parliament, the President of the Republic and the government, hundreds of laws have been passed with the aim of creating a new democratic political, economic, social and administrative system in accordance with the provisions of the national constitution. In this context, the laws on the organisation of territorial administration and on local public administration were passed in November 1998, thus ending the public debate on this problem which lasted more than seven years. We have therefore implemented the constitutional principles relating to public administration, local self-government, the decentralisation of public services and eligibility for election to a public administrative authority, and brought Moldovan legislation into line with the requirements of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.

Having made the new local authorities independent and ensured their activities are open to public scrutiny, we think we have every right to consider these reforms an important achievement for our young democracy and, of course, for the Council of Europe, without whose assistance it would have been very difficult to set these changes in motion on such a scale.

Unfortunately, the implementation of these reforms has been accompanied by some tension in the former district of Taraclia, which is predominantly populated by representatives of the Bulgarian minority who are calling for the district to retain its current status. The government and the President have supported the idea of creating a territorial administrative unit with the status of a district but I regret to say that parliament has not yet found a solution to this problem.

Our citizens are experiencing the support given to our country by the Council of Europe in their daily lives. For example, the impartiality of the administration of justice, free access for everyone to the European Court of Human Rights, the process of adjusting our legal system to European standards, the guarantee of the enjoyment of human rights, political pluralism, equal opportunities, economic pluralism, transparency in political life, freedom of the mass media, the protection of private property and the development of civil society.

Since the entry into force of the constitution on 27 August 1994, we have been able to test in practice the viability and effectiveness of our Organisational machinery, the separation of powers and co-operation between the various authorities of the state in the context of a genuine multiparty system and under the prevailing political, economic and social conditions.

Ladies and gentlemen, although the Republic of Moldova has, in our opinion, made considerable progress on the path to democratic reforms, we cannot fully enjoy the fruits of our efforts while we are still confronted with many problems during our transition to a new society. This compels us to meet the major challenges we face with a proper sense of responsibility.

It is clear that social progress, the endorsement and consolidation of democratic values and success in the promotion of economic and social reforms mainly depend on the efficiency of the state authorities and the government. This, in turn, determines how much confidence the citizens have in those authorities, the direction of the political and economic changes they have initiated and the aim of the reforms. This fundamental principle is extremely important for Moldova, which, since it is undergoing radical political, legal, economic, social and psychological changes, faces many difficulties as a result of the need to adopt rules for die proper functioning of society in conditions of genuine democracy.

Certain paradoxical effects of the reforms need to be mentioned. On the one hand, our society is still aware of the burden of the experience of life under the conditions prevailing in the Soviet political system, which had just one party with a central power base managing the economy by administrative means but in which the citizens’ standard of living was much higher, especially with regard to social security, health care, opportunities for studying at college or university and job security. On the other hand, we have before us the models of the advanced western nations in which political and economic life is organised democratically under conditions of political and economic pluralism. Moreover, we are also able to make use of the experience we have gained ourselves over a period lasting more than ten years during which our society, having made the conscious choice to introduce a democratic system of development, has undertaken and is continuing to undertake enormous efforts to implement and consolidate the values inherent in this system. However, there has been a considerable decline in our citizens’ standard of living during the same period, and in a situation like this it is natural for them to ask why this has happened.

The principal public authorities of the state have a duty to give honest and convincing replies to these questions so that the citizens will still believe that the transition from totalitarianism to a new democratic system has only one aim, namely to make improvements in their living standards and to guarantee human rights.

Since the adoption of the new constitution we seem to have succeeded in implementing the principles and laws necessary for the proper functioning of a society based on the rule of law and on the system of democratic values in which human dignity, rights and freedoms, justice and social equality are guaranteed. The country’s economic development is now based on the public and private ownership of property, with both enjoying equal protection. The market, individual economic initiative and fair competition are essential aspects of the economy, since the private sector is now estimated to account for 60% of GDR This means we have created a framework to meet the principal conditions for sustained economic development. However, their positive effects have still to make themselves felt.

What is the reason for this? The answer is that, as a result of our lack of experience and state traditions, our difficulties in establishing a genuine multiparty system, our unfounded euphoria, unrealistic analyses and forecasts and our inexperience in the administration of public affairs, serious errors have been committed in the promotion of political and, above all, economic reforms during this period of transition.

We did not take into account the fact that the country’s economy is a main source of wealth and that paid work is the source of individual prosperity for the majority of the population. We failed to establish priorities in the development of the national economy, to determine the latter’s place and role in international economic co-operation and to define the specific aspects of this co-operation with eastern Europe, the countries of the former Soviet Union and the West.

This is the situation we face today. It is also an objective fact that economic decline has recently become more marked owing to the regional financial crisis and the fact that the institutions have not been immune from criticism in the dispute concerning the state’s active role in promoting reforms.

Distinguished members of the Assembly, as in the case of the other European democracies in transition towards the market economy, we face many difficulties in our lives that are not easy to overcome. It is hard for people to change their mentality from one day to the next and to eliminate stereotypes and problems inherited from a system in which they have lived for decades. For all the countries of the former Soviet Union, including our own, it has become obvious that giving up totalitarianism is not a pleasure trip. At the same time, the events of the last ten years of this century have shown us not only how strongly humanity has yearned for the democratic ideal but also how individual the paths to achieving this ideal are.

These ten years have shown us that a country’s commitment to making political and economic changes does not immediately lead to the desired results. On the contrary, it is accompanied by a considerable increase in the risk of damage to the social fabric. Excessive politicisation and the antagonistic political fragmentation of society encourage selfish sectional interests instead of the rule of law. During the transitional period we have experienced a serious decline in the standard of living of the majority of the population. The deficiencies in, and ambiguity of, the legislation characteristic of this period have helped corruption and organised crime to proliferate. These phenomena are becoming all the more dangerous as they are usually exploited by forces whose aim is to turn back the clock. The political groups opposed to democratisation enjoy the support of impoverished people without needing to make any effort to canvass that support.

This must not discourage us but, rather, make us determined to strengthen the forces of democracy even more. This is all the more necessary as it remains a pressing need for my country to continue to consolidate the state, to make progress towards the social market economy, to establish democratic institutions and to implement the mechanisms of democratic society.

Along this path leading to what we all refer to as “European integration”, we are facing a series of problems of a psychological character. Many of our difficulties have arisen because we have been slow to understand that the real struggle for European integration does not take place in Strasbourg but in the country we are living in, with its antiquated industries and national institutions. We still have a lot to do at the domestic level to eliminate inertia and the burden of reactionary thinking. One of the main problems is the lack of good professional staff and the need to train high-quality managerial personnel for the most important areas, including government. Unfortunately, it is precisely in the field of administration that we find people with a divided personality who, in the words of a cynical analyst, feel compelled to admire the Louvre while secretly remaining enchanted by the smell of a bar. For this reason, many valuable initiatives aimed in particular at speeding up European integration have been delayed or have not progressed beyond mere good intentions.

We shall have to do a great deal of work during this transitional period in order to deal with or avoid the consequences of a situation that remains confused and in which there are some people still living in the past and others living in the present, especially as in many striking cases this mixture of attitudes is to be found within one and the same person. This situation can be explained by the fact that we are going through a transitional period that none of us has experienced before, and we are doing so by observing the rules of a political process we are undergoing for the first time in our history. We must bridge the gap that exists between us and the rest of Europe and which, it has to be recognised, was forced upon us. This is why after ten years of democratic reforms we still cannot fully guarantee the success of the solutions that we are trying to implement by subjecting our citizens to shortages and worries about the future they often find too hard to endure.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is universally recognised that during the transition from a totalitarian state to one in which fife and the functioning of society are organised in accordance with the principles of democracy, a certain amount of time is needed to create the proper legislative framework, to make changes to the ownership of property and to establish the institutions and infrastructure that can exist under the conditions prevailing in a system of political and economic pluralism. At the same time, in order to ensure a proper transition towards a democratic society, the crucial and most radical changes must take place in the minds of the people and, above all, the politicians. It would be logical to speak in this context of a period of transition in the administration of public affairs, that is to say in the system of government.

Today, the Republic of Moldova is searching for a system of democratic government that is right for the conditions prevailing in the country. Its efficiency will depend directly on the relationship between the political forces in society, on their political and legal culture, on experience in managing public affairs and on the degree of confidence the citizens have in their authorities.

The five years in which the country has been run under a semi-parliamentary and semi-presidential form of government have convinced us that this system is unstable, and inefficient and is unsuitable for Moldova at its present stage of development. The experience of the western European states which, after decades of searching, have found their own democratic systems that permit them to govern themselves efficiently speaks for itself.

This being the situation, I have tried in my capacity as President to find an answer to the following question: what are the objective and subjective factors that are preventing the swift and efficient institution of reforms?

Investigations, consultations with specialists and studies that have been carried out lead us to draw the following conclusion: the difficult economic and financial situation of the country and the limited economic and social success of the reforms are the result of a prolonged crisis in the system of government. This can be explained by the fact that the present system does not provide for the proper separation of powers and for the necessary balance between the duties and responsibilities assigned to each of the three branches, especially parliament and the government.

The Republic of Moldova is a small country with dozens of parties engaged in permanent rivalry. Members of parliament are elected exclusively from the lists drawn up by the parties, which then form extremely unstable alliances. It is no accident that we have had seven governments in the last eight years. While it is nothing unusual for a society that has democratic traditions and has benefited from stable economic development to change its government, for a young and fragile democracy like Moldova, which has an embryonic and unstable multiparty system and lacks administrative experience and traditions, each change of government leads to damaging confrontations between the different branches, inhibits the process of social reforms, and results in political instability and in the people losing faith in the authority of the state.

In view of the serious nature of the situation that had been created, and as parliament had previously fixed 23 May 1999 as the date for the local elections, I issued a decree on 22 March in accordance with the constitution and the Code of Electoral Procedure ordering that a consultative referendum concerning the problem of the change in the Moldovan system of government be held at the same time as these elections.

The action taken to solve this problem is not determined by the ambitions of the head of state, nor does it express the interests of any one party or political grouping. Rather, it is in the interests of society as a whole and is, at the present juncture, an absolute necessity for my country.

In the case of our republic, which is proceeding along the difficult path of reinforcing democratic values and institutions, the situation is as follows: although it has the necessary legal basis, it is impossible for the government, which lacks the appropriate powers and is permanently under the threat of having to resign, to act swiftly and efficiently to implement the laws that have been passed and to apply itself fully to carrying out economic and social reforms. The gross domestic product is in decline, the value of the national currency is falling, and organised crime and corruption have become factors that influence the attitude adopted by the government. People are becoming more and more convinced that the state is powerless to deal with these social evils, and this is leading to even greater social tensions. There are all the signs that the republic is not being governed properly.

The aim of the change in the system of government is not to replace the parliament as the body representing the people and the supreme legislative authority of the state. It is indisputable that parliament will retain its machinery for supervising the President and the change will not in any way affect our democratic institutions and values.

This view was confirmed on 23 May when the citizens exercised their constitutional right to participate directly in an act of government. The local elections and the consultative referendum took place in accordance with the constitution and the Code of Electoral Procedure. Some 58.33% of citizens registered on the electoral roll took part in the referendum. In all, 64.2% of the votes cast supported the idea of changing the system of government in Moldova. The results were declared valid by the Central Electoral Commission and confirmed by the Constitutional Court.

The support for a change in the system of government expressed by the majority of voters who participated in the referendum allows us to set the procedure in motion for amending the constitution. We shall do this by enlisting the help of our own experts and of representatives of the political parties and civil society, by respecting constitutional and democratic procedures and by consulting the Council of Europe and the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) on all necessary aspects.

The main aims we are pursuing by amending the constitution and instituting a presidential system of government are the perfection of the constitutional mechanisms for the separation of the branches of government and their co-operation with one another, the more efficient management of public affairs, the swift and full implementation of economic and social reforms, the consolidation of law and order in the country, and the restoration of the citizens’ confidence in the government. The Republic of Moldova will honour its commitments to the Council of Europe and all the documents it has signed. At the same time, people must become convinced that the state, with all its powers, has been created to represent and promote the legitimate interests of its citizens and defend their rights, this being its supreme raison d’être.

Ladies and gentlemen, I should like to remind you that Moldova’s aspirations to democracy and freedom have been inhibited for several years by the separatist groups in the east of the country who want to revive and preserve the totalitarian system. It was political and ideological rather than ethnic differences supported by the separatist forces and certain political groups from outside the country that provoked an outbreak of armed conflict in Transnistria from March to June 1992. Although seven years have passed since the end of the conflict the effects are still being felt. We have expressed our willingness on several occasions to grant this region a special legal status that would allow it considerable autonomy, provided that Moldova’s territorial integrity and sovereignty are respected. In spite of this, the negotiations under way, with the participation of the OSCE Mission and representatives of the Russian Federation and Ukraine as mediators, are very difficult. It needs to be mentioned that the absence of a final settlement of the conflict is hampering the process of democratisation and the implementation of economic reforms.

Human rights continue to be violated in Transnistria, since this region is not under the control of the country’s constitutional authorities. Up to now, no solution has been found to the problem of freeing the members of the group headed by Mr Iliascu, who has been a member of the Moldovan Parliament for more than five years.

The situation is deteriorating as a result of the enormous quantities of arms and ammunition stored in Transnistria and the foreign troops stationed there.

Although Moldova and the Russian Federation signed an agreement on 21 October 1994 concerning the withdrawal of the arms and military personnel from this territory, this document has not been ratified by the Russians. It is currently not on the State Duma’s agenda. The Russian Federation has so far failed to honour the commitments it has entered into in this regard both vis-à-vis the Council of Europe and the OSCE.

We reiterate our hope that the OSCE mission and the Council of Europe, together with the states I have mentioned – the Russian Federation and Ukraine – will redouble their efforts with a view to relaunching the negotiation process with due respect for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova, and will make a substantial contribution to withdrawing the arms, munitions and troops by creating the conditions for a final resolution of this conflict that was triggered by events that took place during the break-up of the Soviet Union and which have also accompanied this process in other states of the former Soviet Union.

Distinguished members of the Assembly, having the opportunity to address you from this august platform in the very year in which the Council of Europe is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, I should like to stress that all the peoples of this continent, especially those who lived on the other side of the notorious iron curtain, regard the organisation you represent as one that gives them hope and guarantees justice.

Let me remind you of the prophecy of Victor Hugo who said, “The day will come when France, Russia, England, Italy and Germany – all the nations of the continent – will, without losing their distinctive features and their glorious individuality, unite and constitute the Brotherhood of European Nations”.

These words were written 150 years ago. As we have seen, Europe took a century-and-a-half marked by political and military disasters, two world wars and an ideological split into two halves before reaching the state described by this great French writer. His dream began to take shape with the creation of the Council of Europe, which has exerted, and continues to exert, a great influence on the lives of the European nations.

At the same time, we are aware that a number of new policies are being implemented in the practical work of the Council of Europe, especially after the second summit of heads of state and government, and sincerely hope that they will produce beneficial results for the peoples of our old continent and also permit us to prevent situations from being triggered like the events in Kosovo, which are causing much anguish today throughout Europe.

It is all the more important to find a solution to the present crisis in the Balkans as it will set a precedent – either good or bad – whose effects will be felt for a long time to come.

The current situation is characterised by the fact that we are all speaking of a “united Europe”, globalisation and integration while at the same time witnessing a spectacular development of local nationalism, separatist tendencies, federalist aspirations within certain states and, at the same time, the collapse of the old federations in other states.

Finding a solution to the resulting problems must become one of our main priorities.

Ladies and gentlemen, I particularly wish to stress that we mainly see Moldova’s integration into Europe taking place through the continent’s economic structures.

We are currently co-operating actively with the European Union in this regard and hope to become an associate member in the not-too-distant future. Our negotiations with the World Trade Organisation are now almost complete, so that we shall be able to join this body before the end of the year.

I am certain that the pace of European integration will depend a great deal on the intellectual and spiritual integration of our young people. The Council of Europe has sufficient means at its disposal to end the isolation of the young people of our respective countries and help them to get to know one another better.

In conclusion, let me assure you that, in spite of its small size, the Republic of Moldova, where the traditions and cultures of three civilisations – Roman, Slav and oriental – have found a way to live peacefully with one another, will continue to fulfil its function as a bridge between eastern and western Europe, by making every effort to ensure better mutual understanding and co-operation.

Our people rightly belong to the European family not only by reason of these cultural attributes but also because of the reform policies it is implementing and its multi-ethnic democracy. The vast majority of our citizens accept the idea of constructing a common European home.

In our opinion, the Council of Europe represents an opportunity for all nations to determine the role they are to play in the new European architecture. The Republic of Moldova will redouble its efforts to benefit from the chance it is being given.

I thank you for your attention and shall be pleased to answer questions.

THE PRESIDENT

Thank you, Mr Lucinschi, for your wide-ranging and informative address, and thank you for being willing to answer questions. Seventeen of our colleagues have indicated a wish to ask a question and we have about twenty-five minutes, so I implore questioners to keep to the thirty-second limit when asking questions and to ask questions and not make statements. I am sure that you will be a man of few words in answering, Mr President. In that way we will get through all the questions with a following wind.

I propose to group the questions. The first six concern constitutional reform with which you dealt at length, Mr Lucinschi. First, I will call Mr Gross, Mr Jansson and Mr Oliynyk. Mr Gross?

Mr GROSS (Switzerland)

Your recent consultative referendum was followed closely by the European democratic community. How do you evaluate the risk of a strong president using plebiscitary possibilities when faced with a weak parliament in a society where the culture of democracy has still to be strengthened?

Mr JANSSON (Finland)

Thank you, Mr Lucinschi, for meeting me last week in your wonderful country. According to the English translation of your speech, you announced that the executive is impotent and that the constitution needs to be amended. In which direction do you want to change the balance in official power between the government, the parliament and the presidency to reach those goals?

Mr OLIYNYK (Ukraine) (interpretation)

asked how Moldova planned to promote western-style democracy.

Mr Lucinschi, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said that he did not want a stronger executive at the cost of a weaker parliament. He wanted parliament to scrutinise legislation, but there did need to be a separation of powers. This meant that the executive needed to have some powers over the legislature. However, the modernisation was being carried out in a democratic way, with advice from experts in Moldova and the Council of Europe. He did not wish to diminish the jurisdiction of parliament, but hoped to ensure that proper checks and balances were in place.

The only prerogative of the President with regard to parliament was to disband it after forty-five days. In that period nobody had executive power so nobody ran the country. The President promulgated laws, but, if he was not happy with them, he referred them back to parliament which would vote on them again. Over the last five years there had been relative stability between the different organs of government.

To achieve a democracy in Moldova comparable to the democracies in the west required a similar economic and cultural background. The search for appropriate democratic institutions in the West had lasted a long time. For instance, Finland had only recently moved from a presidential to a parliamentary system. He estimated that it would take some ten to fifteen years to complete the democratic reforms already started.

THE PRESIDENT

Thank you. The next three questions are on constitutional reform. They will be asked by Lord Kirkhill, Mr Columberg and Mrs Durrieu. Lord Kirkhill?

Lord KIRKHILL (United Kingdom)

You have just said, Mr President — you said so in your speech and you confirmed it in a reply a short while ago – that the constitutional powers of the parliament in your country will be sustained under your proposed reforms. If that is the case, can you confirm to the Assembly that you understand that executive accountability before the elected parliamentarians is a cornerstone of European democracy?

Mr COLUMBERG (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr President, I have followed the positive development of your country with great interest and should like to congratulate you on the progress you have made.

You have already answered a number of questions on the revision of the constitution. I have a specific question on this subject: do you think the draft constitution you have drawn up should be dealt with by parliament or do you want it to be presented to the people directly after the committee has finished it?

Mrs DURRIEU (France) (translation)

Having been co-rapporteur with Mr Columberg on this subject for six years, I know Moldova very well. It is a country that needs political stability.

Mr President, you are carrying out reforms and have chosen to hold a referendum. Why are you consulting the population directly? Who opposes this referendum today and who is in favour?

Mr Lucinschi, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said that the government answered to a parliament made up of members elected by proportional representation. In Moldova there were a large number of parties and a small population, which had led to coalitions, which in turn split up. In eight years there had been seven governments. It was difficult for the country to join the European family if governments only lasted an average of ten months. Parliament remained strong as it retained leverage over the executive and government. He wanted help to resolve this issue with the assistance of specialists including the Council of Europe. These were stumbling blocks in the development of democracy.

He was grateful to Mr Columberg and Mrs Durrieu for their good wishes and hoped that a stronger executive with greater powers would be a positive force. With regard to the referendum, the majority of parliament had been opposed to it, but he had tried to convince them that it was an objective necessity. The majority of the intelligentsia had supported this initiative. Moldova had entered into a range of commitments on its accession to the Council of Europe, but to make progress in meeting these commitments it needed an efficient system of government.

THE PRESIDENT

Three Assembly members would like to ask some questions, Mr President. Firstly, I call Mr Shaklein.

Mr SHAKLEIN (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

asked Mr Lucinschi about the prospects for solving the problem of Transnistria whilst protecting the interests of the Russian-speaking minority.

Mr KOLLWELTER (Luxembourg) (translation)

First of all, let me make a general comment. I have the feeling that the members of the Assembly are a little worried about your country sliding towards a presidential system, whilst we should prefer one dominated by parliament.

I have two questions concerning Transnistria. Will the new elections that will take place shortly respect the Assembly’s recommendations and reports, especially with regard to the organisation of elections in Transnistria?

The President spoke about a new special status for this part of the country and about its autonomy. Could you be more precise on this?

Mr DUMITRESCU (Romania) (translation)

Mr President, I should like to thank you for speaking to the Assembly in Romanian, our native language.

There can be no doubt that the Republic of Moldova is a state subject to the rule of law and believes in the values of the Council of Europe, human rights and international law.

I have just one question that I should like to ask you in your capacity as President. When will Mr Iliascu, an elected member of the Moldovan Parliament who has been imprisoned in his own country by the authorities of the so-called Republic of Transnistria, be released?

Mr Lucinschi, President of Moldova (interpretation)

replied to Mr Shaklein that the rights of the Russian-speaking population were guaranteed in Moldova, just as they were in Transnistria, where several nationalities coexisted: 40% were Moldovans and 27% were Russians and Ukrainians.

It was quite true that the elections in Transnistria were taking place in an atmosphere of apprehension and fear, and that they had been organised without the presence of observers, unlike in Moldova. Each election, however, altered the political situation.

Mr Kollwelter had expressed the Assembly’s preference for a parliamentary system of government over a presidential one, but Mr Lucinschi pointed out that one of the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet empire had been its wish to impose the same political regime everywhere. Just as Spain had chosen constitutional monarchy, Moldova was looking for its own way.

Concerning the Iliascu case, Mr Lucinschi had been in touch with the head of the Tiraspol administration which led him to entertain a degree of optimism. The parliamentarian had been condemned to death, but it was hoped that the judgement would be formally quashed. Mrs Durrieu was well aware of the problems involved. Transnistria should abolish capital punishment. On the 13 and 14 July, Mr Lucinschi was going to Kyiv where he would meet President Kuchma and the Russian prime minister to discuss the whole issue – a discussion to which Mr Tarschys and the President of the Parliamentary Assembly could usefully contribute.

THE PRESIDENT

Thank you. The sitting will be extended by a little, but I think it important to take questions which relate to the rights of minorities. I ask you to move rapidly to the essential point of your question and to avoid paying hommage to the President and evoking the beauty of the country. I call Mr Toshev.

Mr TOSHEV (Bulgaria)

The adoption, at the end of last year, of the law on the territorial administrative authorities caused considerable protest from the Bulgarian national minority, because the canton of Tarakluia, where this minority lives, has been incorporated into a much larger region. Several organs of the Council of Europe, including the Venice Commission, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe and the Monitoring Committee, believe that this law runs counter to Article 16 of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, to which Moldova is a party. I should add that financial support for a Bulgarian-language newspaper has also been withdrawn.

I would like to know what measures Moldova intends to take in order to guarantee the rights of the Bulgarian minority, rights specified in Article 16 of the Framework Convention.

THE PRESIDENT

What is the question, Mr Toshev?

Mr TOSHEV (Bulgaria)

I would like to know what measures have been taken to protect the rights of the Bulgarian minority.

Mr IVANOV (Bulgaria) (translation)

Mr President, what is your position on Moldova’s new laws on the territorial administrative authorities? Do you support the demand made by the population of Tarakluia, which expressed its support in a referendum for the protection of the territorial integrity of this district?

Mr ROCKENBAUER (Hungary) (translation)

Everyone today is aware of the importance of national and international legal structures aimed at protecting the identity of cultural or national minorities. From this point of view, Moldova is considered a country that has succeeded in meeting the challenge presented by the notion of a nation-state. Its constitutional structure reflects its multi-ethnic and multicultural character.

Can I ask you, Mr President, to let us have your analysis of the practical experience of the other territorial minorities in your country from the point of view of the sharing of responsibilities and the relationship between the minorities and the majority?

Mrs KULBAKA (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

asked to what extent national minorities would be protected and whether children would have access to education in their mother tongues.

Lord JUDD (United Kingdom)

The 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, which all countries should ratify, ensures that all persons in need of international protection are not turned back at the border but can apply for asylum. When does Moldova intend to sign those and introduce refugee protection legislation?

Mr Lucinschi, President of Moldova (interpretation)

said that he regretted that the Bulgarian minority had not accepted the decision of parliament. The law was the law, but parliament had not yet taken a final decision. Certain elements had suggested that special status be given to Tarakluia. What had been done in Bulgaria increased tension. There had been Bulgarians in Moldova for 200 years and they were trying to find the best way to proceed. No Bulgarian newspapers had been closed down. Life for Bulgarians was better than for some other national groups and they were able to support their own newspapers. There had been no political intervention.

Mr Rockenbauer had asked about education in minority languages. Opinions varied as to whether things were as they should be in Moldova or not, but this was democracy. The various ethnic groups benefited from schooling up to university level, and radio and television programmes were provided in their languages. The autonomy of the Gagouz was provided for in the Moldovan Constitution and the Constitutional Court had been appointed to solve this sort of problem.

Mrs Kulbaka had asked about the rights of minorities to participate in government. Moldova had a state language and the Moldovan Parliament functioned in its own language and in Russian. The Russian press was bigger than the Moldovan press but there were no restrictions. Several minorities lived together without inter-ethnic conflict. Moldova had been a province of the Roman Empire and its population was mixed. There were few restrictions on minorities.

On signing the 1951 Geneva Convention, a draft law had been sent to the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights because national legislation would have to be changed in order to sign the convention in the near future.

THE PRESIDENT

We must now conclude question time. I apologise to those who have not had the opportunity to ask their questions because of lack of time. On behalf of the Assembly, I thank President Lucinschi very much for his direct, open and frank answers. The morning has been informative.